One of the criticisms I hear most often lodged at Christian schools in general, and ours in particular, is that it’s “a bubble:” a safe, sterile environment, shielded from the harsh reality of sin and the world around us. When people describe it as a “bubble,” they often mean it in a pejorative sense, that Christian schools leave kids unprepared for the challenges and concerns of the “real world,” or unprepared to engage the culture outside the four walls of the schoolhouse.
Truthfully, as a young school head, I wondered whether that perspective was correct. Now, having seen generations of alumni leave Grace and live a decade or more beyond “the bubble,” I now find that perspective, though enticing on its face, to be way off the mark. My observations are now bolstered by research from the Cardus Study, a research think-tank affiliated with the University of Notre Dame, whose studies of graduates of public and private, religious and non-religious schools in North America on four separate occasions reveal that graduates of private Christian schools have more, not fewer close ties with others outside their immediate context than students of other schools, tend to be more geographically mobile, and are just as likely to know public officials, community leaders, and corporate executives, if not be one themselves. The idea that the “bubble” leads to isolation is a myth, not supported by reality.
So, here are some thoughts as to why I think that is, offered in humble defense of “the bubble”- or, perhaps, to burst it once for all.
First, some caveats. I’m not arguing that all kids should be in Christian schools. How parents educate their children should be a prayerful decision between them and the Lord. Second, I know there are teachers and administrators in non-Christian schools who love Jesus and are doing phenomenal work in their contexts. I love them, and I pray for them regularly. They simply cannot by operation of law or mission do what we’re doing here, through no fault of their own. Finally, I cannot speak for all Christian schools, because I haven’t been in all of them. I just know what we’re trying to do here, by God’s grace and with His guidance.
A Framework for Viewing Life
In our school, kids see all of life: the beautiful, the dreadful, the glorious, the ugly, the sweet, and the terrifying. In age-appropriate ways, they are exposed to history, literature, science, current events, and political movements in all of their grandeur and all of their depravity. Just like in other schools. But, with one crucial difference: in “the bubble,” kids are shown these things through a biblical framework.
In his recent book, Playing God, Andy Crouch has observed that every Christian has a functional Bible from which they operate, a portion of Scripture, but not the whole thing, that guides and forms their lives. He notes that most Christians have four chapters missing from their functional Bibles, and that those missing chapters distort their views of reality: the first two chapters of Genesis, and the last two chapters of Revelation. In “the bubble,” kids get those chapters, and so they learn that they are created in God’s image, a special creation designed to glorify God and steward His creation. They learn that they and this creation have been distorted by the fall of man, and that things are broken and not as they should be. They learn that, as redeemed followers of Jesus, they can be used by God to be “signposts of righteousness,” helping to heal broken relationships with God and others, and to point the way to how things once were, and will be again. They learn that they are eternal beings with an eternal destiny that extends beyond Heaven, that they will live, work, play, and worship in resurrection bodies in the New Jerusalem, when creation is fully restored and unfolded, and that what they do in this life has direct implications for that future.
So, everything they read and study, they see through this framework. They see that all truth is God’s Truth. They engage in what we call “critical appreciation”- reading, studying, and experiencing the world around them, but not just being drowned and engulfed by it with no equipping and no filter. They are assisted and guided to appreciate what is noble, pure, holy, and good about it, and to discern and criticize that which is distorted and fallen. They learn to be saddened and repelled by those fallen aspects, to be appreciative and in awe of the glorious ones, and to see their faithful presence as lovers of Jesus in the world.
A Framework for Thriving in Life
The funny thing about “the bubble” is that it’s really not a “bubble” at all. As Pastor Matt Chandler says about the Church, it’s not a spotless community of perfect people, because you and I are here. There is the same heartache, the same death, the same disease, and the same effects of living in a sinful and fallen world that exist in any other environment. When people call my attention to the fact that our kids don’t always act like little angels, I remind them that they are exactly what the gospel says they are: sinful, fallen human beings saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, by His grace, struggling with their own old sin natures and asking the Holy Spirit’s healing on their lives.
But, again, it goes back to the framework. All kids are going to struggle, everywhere. So will their parents. When they do, within what framework do you want them dealing with those issues? In “the bubble,” teachers and administrators who ALL love Jesus and who are trained to view all of life and learning biblically come alongside kids, walking them through brokenness, confession, forgiveness, restoration, and redemption, and all of that difficult, messy, but ultimately beautiful reality that is the gospel. Kids see and learn in context; so do we adults. And, at no point do they learn like they do when going through struggles. In “the bubble,” they learn how their faith in Christ delivers them through those struggles in a way that builds, strengthens, and matures.
After more than a decade of watching graduates leave here and engage in the largest public and private schools in the country, followed by careers and kids of their own, I’ve seen that “the bubble” doesn’t stifle them—it causes them to flourish. They find their people, establish their faithful base, and engage their world, confident in what they believe. As one alum, a beautiful new wife engaged in African missions who recently came home, emailed me, “I know many students come back as alumni and say something similar to ‘I didn’t know what I had at Grace until now’ or ‘I thought Grace was a bubble but I am thankful now’…more so than ever I am seeing the fruit of years of labor from our school coming to fruition. Grace is a special place. I know it is because it exists for God’s glory.” I went to Alumni Chapel last week, and heard five wonderful young men and women from the Class of 2006- a young mom, a young artist, an officer in our nation’s military, and a small business owner- say essentially the same thing.
“The bubble” is far from perfect. But, it definitely has a beautiful upside.